Niagara Gazette


April 30, 2014

BRADBERRY: Sports ... Leveling the playing field, again


Niagara Gazette — Bursting with pride, Walter pointed to a name on the roster.

“That’s Larry Doby,” he said, as if I was supposed to know who Larry Doby was.

I had no clue.

“I was right there in the stadium in Cleveland watching him play. He was the first African-American baseball player in the American League, and I saw him play in person just before they won the World Series!”

Walter was bursting with pride and uncontainable excitement.

Then, as if to trump that, Walter laid out on the table a letter addressed to him and his family at his home, then on 93rd Street in LaSalle, a personal letter signed by none other than Mickey Mantle himself.

It was as if a light bulb suddenly came on in my head. I got it. I now knew why my dad — and Walter, as it turns out — were such big fans.

At the same time, I was kind of ashamed that it had taken me so long to understand. It took Walter Bulka, an 80-year-old Polish man who used to live in our old neighborhood, to bring me another notch closer to knowing my own father.

Walter knew just about everybody in the neighborhood back in those days and, remarkably, he remembered everything in detail; their names, their birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, marriages, where they lived, where they moved to and why.

On top of all the personal local history, he also just happened to know a heck of a lot about sports, especially baseball.

According to Mr. Bulka, and from what I can remember about my dad’s fascination with the game, there were a lot of Cleveland Indians baseball fans in Niagara Falls right after World War II.

“We used to drive all the way over there just to watch those guys play,” says Walter. Dad and some of his friends used to go to the games, too.

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